The Freshers Fair, one of the key events in one’s first week at university. Putting aside all the clubbing and induction lectures, the Freshers Fair gives new university students the chance to see the sports clubs, societies and events available at the university. For many, it is their first real impression of university life, and is set up to be a welcoming environment for new students, yet for Jewish and Israeli students, this can often not be the case.
At my university, the University of Nottingham, new Jewish students were horrified to see “Boycott Israeli Apartheid” stickers placed all around the ‘Welcome Fair’. Handed out by the Palestinian Society, these stickers found their way onto a large number of the students walking around the fair.
That wasn’t all, students also found it appropriate to put boycott Israel stickers on the Jewish Society stall, a stall which was placed to welcome Jewish and Israeli students to the university.
Imagine how this would make you feel, an Israeli in the UK for the first time, or a Jewish student fresh out of high school, to see fellow peers wearing boycott Israel stickers, and the Arab Society with a map of the Middle East, having Israel coloured in its entirety with a Palestinian flag. What a first impression…
Several Jewish students came up to the Jewish Society stall expressing their fear, intimidation and anger as a result of the stickers, with many rightly, bravely complaining to the University.
Whilst students should be free to engage in discourse about the political situation in the Middle East, stickers singling out one country for boycott, the Jewish state, should have no place at a fair which is meant to welcome all students to university life. Jewish and Israeli students during their first few days at university should not be having to complain to the university, or be made to feel uncomfortable.
Yet this wasn’t the end to an unwelcoming start to the academic year for Jewish university students. During the Welcome Fair, flyers were distributed, including at the Jewish Society’s stall, by the University Chaplaincy, advertising their upcoming event about Fundamentalism. The speaker at the event was Palestinian Christian Revd Dr Fadi Diab from Ramallah.
The lecture room turned into a theatre for Israel bashing, with Diab claiming amongst other things, that Palestinian terrorism against Israelis is caused by Israel. Diab also ignored how Israel tried to save civilian life in Gaza in the fight against Hamas. Despite Hamas placing rockets in Palestinian homes and using them as human shields, Diab still blamed Israel for Palestinian casualties, not the terrorist organisation that put them in harms way. But whether you agree or disagree with this opinion however, he had a right to say it. It was when it came to the Q+A section of the event where the problems started.
In response to a question asked by myself, clearly a Jewish student, on the situation in Gaza, Diab proclaimed “you bomb their homes and houses and streets”, looking in the direction of me and fellow Jewish students in the room. This is anti-Semitism, plain and simple. To accuse me, a Jewish student in Britain, of being responsible for the supposed actions of the Israeli government, is quite literally anti-Semitism according to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism recently adopted by the UK government.
That wasn’t all, in response to my question Diab once again crossed the line, claiming “There is no other people that suffered in the last century like the people in Gaza”. Really? I am in no way denying poor humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, but is Diab really suggesting that the people of Gaza suffered more than the Jews of Europe in the 1930s and 40s, of which 6 million were systematically murdered by the Nazis? If this isn’t Holocaust denial, or downplaying the scope of the genocide of the Jewish people, it comes pretty close to it.
Simply put, the university should not be hosting and endorsing an event with a speaker, who when questioned on his argument, delves into anti-Semitism. The University of Nottingham prides itself on being a welcoming environment for all students, it even calls itself “Britain’s global university”. If that’s truly the case, then it must make sure the university is a welcome environment for all students, including Jewish and Israeli ones.